If a fashion collection is good, you don't need to be told what it's all about. It may not be immediately evident, but as the last look exits the catwalk, it should have clicked into place. You should get it. A designer spouting mumbo-jumbo just makes good soundbytes and gives you quotes to pepper a report with and bulk out your copy. Phoebe Philo doesn't believe in bulking anything out. Blink and you'll miss her Celine shows, paced urgently and stridently, models marching out to an insistent beat and quickly off at the end. Philo doesn't do much yammering backstage either. You get the feeling she's keen to get back into the studio and get on with the next collection.
That's because fashion is a compulsion for Phoebe Philo. She has a need to articulate what she's thinking about the way women should look. Luckily, that thinking seems to chime clairvoyantly with how multitudes of women want to look, and maybe more importantly, to feel. For spring 2012, Philo was feeling free. Hence, she decided to loosen up - just a tad. She's never exactly free and easy with fabric, but here it felt as if Philo was experimenting with cuts and shapes. It marked a move away from the rigorous, linear silhouette she's established as a Celine standard. Last season's tomboy was long gone - Philo is feeling curves. It's not just her silhouettes, which tended to jut out from a narrow waist into short basques like the padded hips of a Dior 'Corolle' suit. Philo played with cutting on the curve for the jabots and cascades of fabric that tumbled down the back of shirts and across hips. Ruffles dances around the body, sometimes forming stiff little peplums or trains, fluid in melton wool and crisp in cotton lawn. Lest you fear a lack of structure, enormous belts defined the midriff. The jackets were most striking set atop trousers, those basques belled out high above a long leg. Shoes were heavy ankle-strap platforms, a chunky rebuttal to the pointy-point stiletto. They gave Philo's female a solid foundation. If you're looking for a decade to align this to, it seemed an abstract vision of the forties, possibly via the Saint Laurent seventies. But it hadn't a hint of the retrograde about it.
It's seldom you see someone articulate something simultaneously feminine and strict without succumbing to comedy 'sexy secretary' or 'stern schoolmistress' cliche. The fact Philo threw it out so easily was somewhat breathtaking, as was how quickly our eyes adjusted to the curvier Celine proportions. It wasn't just those jutting flaps of fabric about the hip. Philo cut her jacket sleeves in the round, let her t-shirts sit fuller and cropped wide-legged trousers at the ankle, all of which lent the clothes fluidity and movement - moving with rather than against the body. That was emphasised by those bouncing flounces, and by pleats fluttering away from the body (even in leather, quite an achievement).
The only trouble with all that is that pictures can do little to capture the true dynamism of Philo's fashion. Then again, that encourages women the world over to go out and discover it first-hand for themselves. They'll flock for these frocks. That's what counts.